Late Autumn Books…


How is it already December?! This autumn has flown by, and I’m definitely behind on my annual reading compared to past years, but still I soldier on! Here’s what I’ve read lately…

–Marissa

Dance Me to the End by Alison Acheson is a memoir Alison wrote before, during and after her husband Marty was diagnosed with ALS at age 57. It reads like a series of snapshots throughout the progression of the disease, and Alison’s caregiving for Marty as he progresses quickly through the disease. Raw, honest, and heartbreaking.

No Judgments by Meg Cabot was just such a fun romp of a romance novel! Bree recently moved to the Florida Keys to get away from her past, and as settled into small town life… until a very real hurricane threatens her town. Filled with quirky characters, romance, and lots of dogs – a winning combination!

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis is a great London-winter-meetcute-Notting Hill-romance novel, and I was here for it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Four roommates are living in a Notting Hill home, and the only real house rule is “no hooking up with roommates”… so guess what happens. Fluffy and fun!

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now by Christopher Ingraham was a great fish-out-of-water memoir, with a totally Midwestern twist! After writing an article in the Washington Post about the worst county in America – Red Lake County, Minnesota – Ingraham, through a series of decisions and fates, moves there with his family. He thus details the people he encounters, the winters, the challenges and joys, and how knowing your neighbors and wide open spaces can make all the difference in life. This felt like a love letter to the Midwest, my home. ๐Ÿ™‚

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay is his first follow-up after the success of the Dexter“series, this time starring master thief Riley Wolfe. Wolfe has his eyes on the prize – prized Iranian jewels – and must play a loooong game to try and steal them. This was absolutely a set up for a new series, but it was enjoyable and twisty – I liked it!

How to Be a Family by Dan Kois was another “take the family out of the norm” memoir, but instead of moving just once, the Kois family lived in New Zealand, Holland, Costa Rica, and Kansas for three months each during the course of a year. He and his wife and two children left the “rat race” of DC to try and reconnect with themselves, their family dynamic, and to learn how other live, raise their kids, and find their happiness. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses (which I appreciated!), but was very thought-provoking and fun to follow along with the family.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett was definitely a favorite read of 2019 – her writing is just so luminous and transportive, even if her books are hard to summarize! Two siblings grow up in “the Dutch House” their father purchased after World War II, but are exiled by a stepmother years later. This novel travels with the brother and sister through fifty years of life, memories, discoveries and always… a yearning to go home. Part fairy tale, part family tale, I devoured this.

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca is just a great nonfiction book to dip in and out of as he talks about the lives of the famous – and not so famous – after their death. Think everyone from Audrey Hepburn and Alexander Hamilton to the “worst presidents we’ve ever had”. Fun, easy to read, but also super informative!

I also read What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr (so disappointing – I normally love her books!)… The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg (pleasant, but unmemorable)… Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (my first Christie ever read!)… Heartburn by Nora Ephron (I’ve never read this either!)… The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (enjoyable, but didn’t stick with me)… and The Furies by Katie Lowe (ultimately super disappointing).

Falling Into Fiction (and More!)…


And here it is, October (my favorite)!

It’s been a busy few weeks (honeymoon! work! life!), but I have been diligently reading as much as I can squeeze in, and here’s what’s crossed my nightstand lately…

–Marissa

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo has been one of the mostly hotly anticipated releases this fall! Bardugo’s first adult fiction work takes place at Yale… but at a Yale with ghosts, sacrifices, magic and dark deeds. The world building on this one was great, and though fantasy isn’t my favorite, I appreciated this one – though it was LENGTHY. If you loved Bardugo’s YA novels, I’m sure you’ll love this!

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur has been one of my favorite reads this fall, but Brodeur just has such a way with words and with telling a story – albeit a true one. The subtitle “My Mother, Her Lover, and Me” is a bit misleading, but is actually accurate. I don’t want to give too much away, except to say I really, really loved this memoir about love, coming of age, relationships with mothers and daughters, infidelity, wealth and want. Highly, highly recommended!

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs was a fun, one-day read for me. I already love Burroughs, but his latest really hooked me – it’s all about how, his whole life, he has identified as a witch. His mom, his grandmother… they all had mystical abilities, but Burroughs gives lots of examples of how a touch of magic has changed the course of his life time and again. Witty, wry, heartfelt, and fun – I really enjoyed this!

Clear My Name by Paula Daly was a fast, satisfying suspense novel about a woman who is in prison and declares her innocence throughout the process… and then finally gets her case picked up by the Innocence Project UK. The investigator into the case get pulled and pulled into the case, but all is not as it seems. I’ve really enjoyed Daly’s last couple of suspense novels!

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks was just such a fun, satisfying novel. I love a novel that pushes the boundaries of storytelling, and this one is told entirely in LISTS – and yet, it works! It’s funny, warm, tender, heartbreaking and witty, and I just devoured it while I was on vacation!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert was a refreshing romance read, since it features a main character who is a woman of color, plus size, and with medical issues that aren’t often featured in stories… and yet this romance oozed sexy, hot scenes, and a sweet romance. I liked it!

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris is a sort-of sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and tells the story of Cilka, primarily her experiences after the war, when she is taken from Auschwitz to a gulag in Siberia for war crimes. This novel tells the story of how she survived, who she met (and helped) along the way, and what life was like after she finally gained her freedom. Worthwhile, for sure…

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Septys is not something I would have picked up on my own, but based on my love of Salt to the Sea, I had to read it! This novel takes place in Spain, 1957 when the country was still under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. The main characters are a young woman who lived through the Spanish Civil War and an young American who comes to stay in the hotel where she works. I learned a lot from this novel, but I definitely prefer Salt to the Sea. ๐Ÿ™‚

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson was delightfully weird. ๐Ÿ™‚ A down-on-her-luck girl gets a call from her former roommate, asking her to come watch her stepchildren for a few weeks while they get reacclimated to their home…. except the roommate is now filthy rich and married to a politician… and the children occasionally catch on fire. ๐Ÿ˜€ Quirky yet warm, I really tore through this easy novel!

I also read A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton (I’ve never read the Kinsey Millhone series!)… The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (fun!)…Slow by Brooke McAlary (wise advice!)… Fair Play by Eve Rodsky (lots of food for thought in this one!)… and back-to-back reads of The Art of Making Memories and The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (such cozy reads)!

Summer Lovin’, Happened So Fast…

September, September… but where did the summer go?! Though it feels like it flew by, we did make some memories along the way. How was your summer, friends?

I’ve been… celebrating another year around the sun with a cake made by Johnna and her daughter… tooling around in a golf cart with the “Italy Girls” to admire an amazing flight of the fireflies… (mostly) installed a new fence in the yard… tried to grow things (and ended up failing, big time!)… getting more bangs… going to a conference in Washington, DC… admiring the African violets inherited from Mum, who nurtured them for so many years… catching “throwed rolls” at Lambert’s Cafe… celebrating Johnna’s birthday… dragging Wes to his first local high school football game… and admiring the amazing Japanese Garden during the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden… and so many more things, big and little.

Roll on autumn!

–Marissa

 

 

 

Summer Readin’, Happened So Fast…


How is it September? SEPTEMBER?! This summer seems to have zipped past, August especially! Despite the summer bustle, I’ve managed to knock out a few titles… here’s what I’ve been reading lately…

–Marissa

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center was just the right book at the right time! I really love all of Center’s books – they are warm, sweet, romantic, but not cloying or saccharine. This time, we have a female firefighter who has to transfer to a new unit, who aren’t exactly… welcoming. Personal growth, romance, and putting old ghosts to rest all combine into a great story. I loved it!

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare was a must read for me, because, well, TESSA DARE! Dare always writes Regency romances that are witty, sparkly, sexy, and just fun – and this is another good addition to the Girl Meets Duke series (I still love Spindle Cove the best!), especially since it features all manner of creatures – really! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson was a great, quick-read suspense story that takes place in the Chicago suburbs (which I visit from time to time!). Phoebe is your typical bored housewife, until two things happen: a new family moves into the neighborhood, and a mysterious car starts parking outside her house every day. This was fast, satisfying, and a good whodunit!

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb is a non-fiction memoir that’s been on a my radar for a while, and did not disappoint. Gottlieb is herself a therapist, so this is a dual story – the story of her going to a therapist after a devastating breakup, and the stories of the patients she sees in her practice. Really interesting stuff here!

The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood is the follow-up novel to Greenwood’s debut All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, which I devoured, and while I liked it, I feel like it didn’t have the same “magic” as before. Zee is down on her luck with a flighty sister and a hoarder mother who is followed around (somewhat) by a neurodiverse man named Gentry, who claims he is her “champion”. When Zee’s sister is kidnapped, Gentry swoops in to help Zee in any way he can. It was tough going getting used to Gentry’s chapters – which are entirely in Middle English, the only way he speaks – but I was definitely invested in the story.

24/6: The Power of Unplugging by Tiffany Shlain was a really thought provoking read for me – and one I aspire to achieve! Shlain, her husband and her two kids have observed a “Tech Shabbat” for years – literally putting away all screen from Friday night to Saturday night in order to disconnect, reconnect with each other, and pursue more than scrolling Instagram. Filled with ideas of how to do it, data supporting it, and general inspiration, this non-fiction work really spoke to me, and I’m eager to try my own “Tech Shabbat” – even just for a few hours to start! Highly recommended!

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal is his follow up to Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which I really enjoyed, and like Greenwood above, just didn’t *quite* catch the same magic this time around. Two sisters, a rivalry of beer, and a story told across many decades are featured in this novel. I learned a LOT about beer and brewing, and while I liked it, I didn’t *love* it the same way as before.

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner is her longest, more personal novel to date, and I really liked it (though it took me AGES to read!). This story walks through the lives of two sisters, starting in the 1950s when conformity and marriage were all that were expected of women, and how they both chafe and comply with convention – particularly for one sister, who finds that traditional marriage is not for her. I really liked this story, though again, it is LONG for a Weiner book!

I also read Do You Mind If I Cancel? by Gary Janetti (collection of memoir essays from the guy I think of as Brad Goreski’s husband *smile*)… Pretty Guilty Women by Gina Lamanna (easy, breezy women’s fiction mystery)… As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner (a good historical pick for our book discussion at the library)… and Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty (solid women’s fiction).

Mid-Summer Memoirs and More


Summer is always a fast and slow reading time for me… some books I zip right through when the time is right, others I feel like it’s taking me weeks to finish a single novel. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve read lately…

–Marissa

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is a memoir about Lisa’s growing up with her bohemian mother and her (famous) father Steve Jobs in California. She talks about her relationship with both her parents, her struggles to reconcile her father’s wealth, emotions and affections towards her, her work in school and what California was like during her childhood. Though I’m not a huge Steve Jobs devotee, I was fascinated by his part in her memoir and in shaping who she has become. Very interesting!

Karamo by Karamo Brown is of course the memoir of the fabulous Brown from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Bravo, and is such a warm, kind, introspective memoir without being too heavy-handed or self-aggrandizing. I loved getting to know more about Karamo and his point of view that he brings to the show. Great!

Shamed by Linda Castillo is the latest Kate Burkholder mystery in the series, and is another solid entry in the lineup. I really love going back to this series and visiting with Kate, her police team, her relationship with Tomasetti, and the village of Painters Mill, Ohio… it’s like visiting an old friend for a few hours. ๐Ÿ™‚

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky is such a summery read about money, affairs, relationships, the Hamptons, and the lies we tell to get (and keep) what we want. I zipped through this one in no time – a quick “beach read” filled with short, sharp sentences and pithy observations!

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger took me an AGE to read, but is a timely novel in the vein of Big Little Lies and its telling of privileged people who will do anything to give their children a step ahead. This time, we’re in affluent Colorado where a new gifted school will be opening up, but not before stringent testing and review – which spins out both the parents and their children. It was a fine novel, but maaaan, I got bogged down in it and it took me forever to finally plow through to the finish!

After the End by Clare Mackintosh is a departure from her usual police procedurals, but is an excellent piece of women’s fiction told in a Sliding Doors style. Max and Pip are a solid couple who are raising their terminally ill child as strongly as they can. When a treatment *could* extend his life (but not the QUALITY of life), they are divided on which road to take. The book then splits into both perspectives, and what happens to their son – and their relationship – down each path. Very thought provoking and well-written – highly recommended!

The Chain by Adrian McKinty has been SUCH a buzzy book this summer, and why not? It’s such a great premise! Rachel is heading to her oncologist when she gets word her only daughter has been kidnapped… and in order to get her back, she must pay a ransom AND kidnap someone else’s child… thus becoming a part of “The Chain”. Fast-paced, twisty, and OMG, I really zipped through this suspense novel!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is definitely deserving of all the praise that has been heaped on this non-fiction work, and is one I’ve thought of again and again since I finished it. Taddeo spent years with three women, digging into and detailing their disparate intimate lives – one who begins an affair after a decade of being physicallyย ignored by her husband; one who is seduced by her high school English teacher; and one who has a strong, loving marriage, in which her husband enjoys watching her have sex with other people. Taddeo really delves into the emotion, desperation, and decision-making of these women, not to vilify, but instead to illustrate that just because women are meant to be virginal and pure they don’t have their own sexual needs, emotional anguish or need for more. This is NOT for everyone – some of the encounters are not white-washed and are very detailed – but I’ve really thought about it a lot, and wondered…. where are these women now? Very highly recommended!

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was just… charming. ๐Ÿ™‚ This speedy read is about a girl who works in a bookshop, is part of a trivia team, and is content with her cozy, quiet life… until things go upside down, of course. I loved all the literary references, the laugh out loud humor, and the romance at the heart of the story (both with a guy, and with books!). Lovely!

Cosy : The British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir is the England-version of the Hygge book, all about how to be cosy in England (hint: tea is involved!). It was lovely and cosy and just what I needed, despite reading it in the heat of summer!

Supper Club by Lara Williams ended up being such a bummer when I had high hopes for it. I was psyched to see women embracing the creation and enjoyment of food just for enjoyment’s sake, in female relationships, and in embracing their bodies, but it just devolved into something… uglier. I struggled to finish this one, honestly. :-/

I also readย The Middle Matters by Lisa-Jo Baker (unless you are a 40-something Christian woman with multiple children and a long-time husband, you’ll probably struggle to find relevance like I did)… Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (the first book in a wildly popular Young Adult series)… How Could She by Lauren Mechling (disappointing, meandering women’s fiction novel)… The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (based on a true story but would be more impactful as a screenplay, I think)…Her Daughter’s Mother by Daniela Petrova (though-provoking, twisty and page-turning) and The Collected Schizophrenias Esme Weijun Wang (an interesting non-fiction account of her experiences with schizoaffective disorder).

Whirlwind Trip to Cincinnati

Earlier this spring to celebrate my birthday, Wes (the still newish husband!) and I decided to head out of town for a quick weekend in Cincinnati. It’s impossible to see it all in this cool river town, but we did our best to pack in what we could!

We headed to the Cincinnati Zoo (mostly to see Fiona!) and I again marveled at what an amazing facility it is, and one I haven’t visited in many, many years. We also made sure to visit the original Jungle Jim’s to stock up on “British food” and all manner of tasty nibbles!

We also visited the Newport Aquarium, right across the river from Cincinnati, which gives visitors a great view of the skyline, and is an impressive aquarium for its size. We wound down our weekend with a visit to to the Cincinnati Art Museum, where admission is always free!

There are still so many things we want to do when we visit Cincinnati again (eat at Skyline Chili again! Visit the Rhinegeist brewery! Carew Observation Deck!), but for a quick weekend, it felt like we packed a lot in!

–Marissa

 

Summer Stories


I feel like my reading of late has been really up and down… I blaze through a book or two, and then I seem to get mired in a book for a week or two while life gets in the way or I’m not compelling forward by the story. In any case, here’s what I’ve read of late…

–Marissa

High Country by Nevada Barr is another great Anna Pigeon novel, this time set in Yosemite National Park. Reading an Anna Pigeon novel is like visiting an old friend for a few hours…

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister feels like a good companion to Where the Crawdads Sing or books by Sarah Addison Allen. I really loved The School of Essential Ingredients, so I was eager to read this latest, which definitely kept me guessing throughout. Beautiful prose, evocative scenery, this is great women’s fiction!

Mine by Courtney Cole was a super fast read, and though it wildly pulled at the strings of plausability, it was a solid suspense novel of the wronged wife taking revenge into her own hands!

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis is a collection of (often NSFW) essays about, well, being a southern lady, and not so much of a lady at times. Definitely funny in places, and poignant in places, this is a great one to pick up and put down to read along.

Naturally Tan by Tan France is his breezy autobiography about growing up gay in England, meeting his husband, fashion advice, and being on Queer Eye. Fast and fun!

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is just a delightful romance. ๐Ÿ™‚ A boy and a girl share a flat, but work opposite schedules and thus never meet, but communicate solely through Post-It note. You know how it’ll end, but it’s utterly charming.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos is probably supposed to spark more ire than it actually did (I even discussed it with a fellow reading buddy!), but didn’t really strike me as implausible… a “farm” in upstate New York takes exceptional care of women who are serving as surrogates for the rich and famous, though they must stay for the duration of their pregnancy. And? :-/

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper could have been a serious downer, but instead was a quite charming British story of a bloke who clears flats after someone had died without family and who once told a fib… which has blossomed into a large, large lie. When he falls for the “new girl” in the office, he has to decide how to live – a lovely story!

Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach knocked my socks of, in a good way! I thought it would be just a cookbook (and for the record, I rarely “read” cookbooks, no matter who it is), but I was so pulled into her story, her commitment to family dinner, and to her easy, breezy recipes then I read it cover to cover, marking recipes and reading passages to my husband. I aspire to be Jenny, and I’ve definitely been making dinner more at home thanks to her cookbook!